The best things to see and do in Crete

08 Aug 2022 By Matt French

With 100 Blue Flag beaches dotted around a beautiful 1,000km-long coastline, it’s little wonder Crete remains the most visited island in Greece. You’ll find ancient ruins, millennia-old palaces, and world-beating museums. Then there are the island’s caves, gorges, and waterfalls to discover. Did we mention the mouth-watering food?

There’s a lot to see and do, so to make it a bit easier, we’ve put together a handy list of the best beaches and the most impressive natural wonders. You’ll find sections on Crete’s must-see historical attractions, and the dishes you can’t leave without trying. We’ve even included our top hotel choices, giving you the best deals on the island.

Keep reading for the best of Crete…

Crete’s amazing beaches

Elafonisi Beach, Crete

Elafonisi Beach in Crete’s southwest corner is one of the world’s most remarkable beaches. The pink sand and see-through blue water make this natural wonder unmissable. Hundreds flock to Elafonisi daily in the summer months, so arrive early to enjoy the beach in all its beauty.

Palm Beach, setting for the famous chocolate bar ads of the 80s, is home to the only palm tree forest in Europe. With fine golden sand and incredible blue-green water, you’ll feel like you’re lying on a beach in the Caribbean. Hop on a jet ski for incredible views of the beach from the water.

Tucked away in Crete’s northwest, Falassarna Beach offers a day away from the crowds in a stunning location. Surrounded by mountains, this 1km curve of golden sand rarely gets too crowded, and the aquamarine water is irresistible. Grab a snorkel, and dive in.

Hotel choice:

The highly rated Christina Beach Hotel in the charming town of Kissamos puts you within easy reach of Crete’s north and west coast beaches. The hotel comes with an outdoor pool and impressive ocean views.

A step back in time

The Palace of Knossos, Crete.

Wander through ancient bath houses, royal living quarters and grand theatres at the fascinating Palace of Knossos. This impressive complex dates to 7000 BC, making it the oldest known city in Europe. A great day out for history buffs of all ages.

For a real insight into Cretan history, don’t miss the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, one of the most well-respected museums in Europe. Spanning thousands of years, the museum showcases artefacts from pre-history, Minoan rule, and the Roman Empire.

The sacred Arkadi Monastery in Rethymon is one Crete’s top historical attractions. A symbol of Cretan liberation, the monastery became a shelter for the people of Crete during the 1886 revolution. The building is incredibly well-preserved, and worth taking your time over.

We recommend:

With its wonderful Venetian architecture and long stretch of sandy beach, Rethymnon is one of the most picturesque towns in Crete. Just 14km from Arkadi Monastery, Grecotel Lux Me White Palace is a beautifully designed 5-star gem, right on the beach.   

Crete’s natural wonders

Samaria Gorge, Crete.

Winding its way through the landscape for 16km to the ocean, the mighty Samaria Gorge is a magnet for nature lovers. The gorge offers a magnificent walk through pine forests, mountain streams, and waterfalls. You’ll spot Cretan goats along the way, and – if you’re lucky – a rare Bearded Vulture.

The Cave of Zeus, hidden high in the mountains of Dikteon, is said to be the birthplace of Zeus, King of the Gods. The cave features a mineral pool, and a large chamber filled with hundreds of shimmering stalactites and stalagmites. After you’ve finished exploring, take in the breathtaking views of Lassithi Plateau.

Crete’s only natural lake, Lake Kournas is a home to an array of wildlife including sea eagles, herons, and terrapins. The water is a brilliant topaz-green, and you’ll find a pebble beach for sunbathing. Grab a kayak from the rental stand, and spend an afternoon exploring the lake.

Where to stay:

Base yourself in Chania in Crete’s north for easy access to many of the island’s best natural attractions. Our hotel choice goes to Hotel Splanzia, a top-rated boutique hotel with excellent dining.

Dishes you can’t miss

Souvlaki, the famous Cretan dish, with tzatziki.

While you can find souvlaki at home, this iconic dish is taken to the next level in Crete. Mouth-watering skewers of pork or chicken are marinated in red wine, and served with salad and pita bread. Try souvlaki with a cold Mythos lager, or a chilled glass of Assyrtiko – a white wine produced on the island.

For a meat-free classic, be sure to sample Cretan dolmades. These tender grape leaves stuffed with rice and fresh herbs make a great starter, and you’ll often find them as part of a mezze platter (Greek tapas). Dolmades go particularly well with tzatziki, the creamy Greek dip.

For a snack on the go, there’s nothing better than Kalitsounia. A cheese pie made with honey might not sound instantly appealing, but trust us – you’ll be coming back for seconds! These moreish bites can be found in bakeries all over the island.

A foodie’s paradise

In the north, the resort town of Hersonissos is brimming with restaurants along the seafront. We recommend staying at Casa Bianca Boutique Hotel – a stylish property in the mountains with highly-rated food and drink.

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